TOP TEN ENDANGERED LANGUAGES.

I know, I know, we’re all sick of top-ten lists, and on the face of it a list of the Top Ten Endangered Languages seems… well, odd, but Peter K. Austin is an actual linguist who “has published 11 books on minority and endangered languages, including 12 Australian Aboriginal languages, and holds the Märit Rausing Chair in field linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies where he is also director of the Endangered Languages Academic Programme,” so his piece at the Guardian is knowledgeable and interesting, even if the descriptions of the languages are so short and superficial (“extremely complicated word structure and grammar”) that they’re not very useful. After all, in this wonderful internet age, we can always google for more. This link comes from Crown, AJP, a frequent LH commenter aka Sir Arthur Crown, V.C.; Arthur, Graf von Hubris; et alia varia, to whom my thanks.

Comments

  1. These languages are a bit beyond endangered: they are heading for the Last Roundup and no mistake, sadly.
    It’s nice to know in an abstract way, though, that although all the other Yeniseian languages are dead, that their New World relatives are still with us, at least for a while.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    Arthur, Graf von Hubris

    That would be Hybris, then. In German, Greek y always stays y, and most of the time it’s even pronounced [y].

  3. The count’s family has eccentric spelling traditions and a wicked facility with the dueling saber. A word to the wise.

  4. My favorite is the description of Yuchi, spoken by five people in Oklahoma: “Yuchi nouns have 10 genders, indicated by word endings: six for Yuchi people (depending on kinship relations to the person speaking), one for non-Yuchis and animals, and three for inanimate objects (horizontal, vertical, and round).” The gender for non-Yuchis and animals reminds me of the animal radicals that were used until recently in the Chinese characters for certain ethnic minorities.

  5. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    This was all new to me, a non-linguist. I liked, for example: !Xóõ (also called Ta’a and spoken by about 4,000 people) which has the most sounds of any language on earth: 74 consonants, 31 vowels, and four tones (voice pitches).
    While that’s interesting about Hybris, Hubris is a small village in the North Friesian islands. The Graf can be a grumpy old sod, but he’s fairly benign after they’ve given him the medicine.

  6. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    This was all new to me, a non-linguist. I liked, for example: !Xóõ (also called Ta’a and spoken by about 4,000 people) which has the most sounds of any language on earth: 74 consonants, 31 vowels, and four tones (voice pitches).
    While that’s interesting about Hybris, Hubris is a small village in the North Friesian islands. The Graf can be a grumpy old sod, but he’s fairly benign after they’ve given him the medicine.

  7. Thanks for mentioning my “Top 10″ and crediting me with being “a real linguist” :-).
    Your comment that “the descriptions of the languages are so short and superficial (“extremely complicated word structure and grammar”) that they’re not very useful” is well taken, however this was forced upon me by the Guardian editor – my original draft of the posting was considered to be “too technical” and I was told to make it “easier for readers to understand” (hence “complicated word structure”).
    Still, it attracted a large number of hits, and, with your help, traffic from your site as well. Thanks!

  8. I adore this blog…it never fails to captivate me. The documentation of dying languages always makes me a little sad and strikes me as more than a little masochistic for language-lovers. “Yep, that dog is definitely drowning. And it’s the last of its kind.” Now, the dog may be too far out to save, but standing there, watching it struggle and gasp its last breath before sinking below the waves, seems a little cruel to it and oneself. Then again, maybe it provides the impetus to save others, so perhaps not all is lost.
    Anyway, I love Language Hat – and I added it to my Blog Day list. Thanks for a great read I can always rely on to entertain and edify.

  9. however this was forced upon me by the Guardian editor
    Oh, believe me, I took that for granted—sorry if I gave the impression it was in any way your fault. I’m well aware of the way the media deal with linguistic issues. Thanks for dropping by!

  10. David Marjanović says:

    The count’s family has eccentric spelling traditions

    But, unlike English, German has limits on that. Cases like Featherstonehaugh are simply not imaginable.
    Didn’t know about the island, though.

  11. Wolfgang Kuhl says:

    “Ku goro Kamui, ku goro Kamui, nep gusu Aokai en ande ya ?“ (Oh, my God, why hast thou forsaken me ?) The Japan Bible Society issued The New Testament in Ainu in 1981 being a reprint of Rev. John Batchelor’s translation of 1897 entitled “Chikoro utarapa ne Yesu Kiristo ashiri aeutaknup Oma Kambi”.
    Rev. John Batchelor’s “Ainu-English-Japanese Dictionary (including a grammar of the Ainu language)”, Tokyo 1905 can be downloaded from this site:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/378975/An-AinuEnglishJapanese-Dictionary-including-A-Grammar-of-the-Ainu-Language
    The Ainu words in this dictionary have been written in Japanese Kana as well as in Roman letters.
    The Ainu version of the Lord’s Prayer can be found here:
    http://www.christusrex.org/www1/pater/JPN-ainu.html

  12. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    Didn’t know about the island, though.
    Sorry, David, I’m pulling your leg (Germany being so large, I chose a region that I guessed you didn’t know too well). I promise to stop it with this nonsense now.

  13. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    Didn’t know about the island, though.
    Sorry, David, I’m pulling your leg (Germany being so large, I chose a region that I guessed you didn’t know too well). I promise to stop it with this nonsense now.

  14. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    La Barceloneta: maybe it provides the impetus to save others
    How do you save a language? It’s not like breeding a few more pandas and giving them extra bamboo shoots. You can’t keep the last two speakers of !Xóõ at the London Zoo.

  15. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    La Barceloneta: maybe it provides the impetus to save others
    How do you save a language? It’s not like breeding a few more pandas and giving them extra bamboo shoots. You can’t keep the last two speakers of !Xóõ at the London Zoo.

  16. I promise to stop it with this nonsense now.
    Come, come, no need to go to extremes.

  17. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    As always, I defer to your judgment, Boss.

  18. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    As always, I defer to your judgment, Boss.

  19. Peter Austin says:

    Outsiders, including linguists, can’t “save” a language — only the community where it is spoken can decide to do so by continuing to speak the language and passing it on to their children. Linguists can assist with the process of revitalisation by supporting communities in their desires and helping to produce materials (books, dictionaries, language lessons) and new contexts for language use (eg. radio, pop music). There are numerous examples where language shift has been reversed and endangered languages have grown in size and become less endangered, eg. Welsh, Maori, Hawaiian, and many examples where communities are struggling right now to make this happen, eg. Ainu, Gamilaraay (an Australian Aboriginal language). In many cases, dealing with pressing social and economic issues in minority communities like health, environmental degradation, and land ownership goes along with linguistic and cultural revitalisation, so the zoo is exactly the wrong analogy to bring up.

  20. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    Gosh. Sorry.

  21. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    Gosh. Sorry.

  22. Peter’s right, of course. One of the few bright spots in the spectacle of mass language loss in recent years is the proliferation of relatively cheap ways of helping people preserve their language via computers, printers, etc. But yeah, the community has to do it themselves, with whatever help from outside they feel is appropriate.

  23. One of the few bright spots in the spectacle of mass language loss in recent years is the proliferation of relatively cheap ways of helping people preserve their language via computers, printers, etc. But yeah, the community has to do it themselves, with whatever help from outside they feel is appropriate.
    Another blog entry (at anggarrgoon) stimulated, I think, by Peter Austin’s article included the comment that Mapudungún is important for the recognition of Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights, since they took Microsoft to court over an unauthorised software translation.
    Initially I found this shocking, but after reading the response I think it was just unfortunate. Whatever we may think of some others of Microsoft’s activities, in this case all they were doing was to offer relatively cheap ways of helping people preserve their language via computers, and found themselves taken to court by a faction of the beneficiaries, who didn’t like the orthography Microsoft had chosen to use after waiting endlessly for the bickering factions to come to an agreement.
    I’m reminded of the story that Larry Trask told in his book Language: the basics about the letter h in Basque, a subject that was apparently more important to many Basque speakers than resisting the tide of Spanish.

  24. I’m reminded of the story that Larry Trask told…
    If I’d been a reader of your blog back in August 2002 (the 23rd to be exact — but in those days I didn’t know what a blog was), I’d also have been reminded of your very pertinent comment about Cornish. What is it about these languages that have only half a dozen speakers left that makes them more interested in fighting among themselves than fighting the common enemy?
    Incidentally, despite my name I’m not Cornish, though really “despite my name” is superfluous, because Cornish is not a Cornish name. (You can find people called Cornish in Cornwall, but they’re mostly descended from immigrants from Devon.)

  25. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    …and the Duke of Devonshire’s house is in Derbyshire, the Derby is held in Berkshire and Berkshire Hunt is rhyming slang.

  26. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    …and the Duke of Devonshire’s house is in Derbyshire, the Derby is held in Berkshire and Berkshire Hunt is rhyming slang.

  27. The Duke of Devonshire’s house is in Derbyshire.
    True, but the duchy never had much connection with Devon (which is called that by people who live there), and his title is said (fancifully, perhaps) to have been the result of a copying error by a clerk, who read “Devon…” for “Derby…”.
    As for Berkshire Hunt, we usually say “berk” rather than say it in full, but I guess that makes it more difficult to guess what it’s slang for. Come to that, I wonder how many of the people who use it to mean an obnoxious person realize that it’s rhyming slang. (For our American readers we should perhaps add that although “Berkshire” is usually pronounced with a first syllable like “bark”, “berk” is pronounced as the spelling suggests.)

  28. This non-American appreciates the clarification. I was just pondering that, since I did indeed think it was /bɜːk/, but Berkshire was too close to Berkeley for me to believe it shouldn’t be /bɑːk/.

  29. This American appreciates the clarification as well.

  30. Crown, A. J.P. says:

    Are you related to the Eton Headmaster Cornish?

  31. “I’m reminded of the story that Larry Trask told in his book Language: the basics about the letter h in Basque, a subject that was apparently more important to many Basque speakers than resisting the tide of Spanish.”
    In a similar vein, many older Maaori speakers are beginning to angrily resist modern standard Maaori. In some areas where the language has remained strong, only speakers of the local dialect are permitted to speak, and the standardised form which is taught and which is even the first language for some young preople is contemned and proscribed.

  32. Similarly, you haven’t really lived until your Standard Literary Yiddish (klal-yidish, or colloquially yivo-yidish) is sneered at by an older, native-born Yiddish speaker who doesn’t bother to speak the language to anybody.

  33. Are you related to the Eton Headmaster Cornish?
    If you mean Francis Warre Warre-Cornish (1839-1916) then yes, he was my second cousin four times removed, but it’s not what one would call a very close relationship!

  34. This was all new to me, a non-linguist. I liked, for example: !Xóõ (also called Ta’a and spoken by about 4,000 people) which has the most sounds of any language on earth: 74 consonants, 31 vowels, and four tones (voice pitches)
    I liked that as well. I find it a little hard to imagine how one can pronounce a plosive that is both voiced and unvoiced. It makes the sound system of Georgian seem simple and straightforward.
    In the article at Wikipedia there are a couple of useful phrases that anyone will find handy when travelling among the Eastern !Xóõ, such as
    ǃqháa̰ kū ǂnûm ǁɢˤûlitê ǀè dtxóʔlu ǀnàe ǂʼá sˤàa̰, which means Give them their stinking genitals with the fat!

  35. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    Yes, it was Warre who was the headmaster and Cornish who was the something else, and their children got married. There was a later Francis Warre-Cornish as well, probably the first one’s son or something, who was a very nice man, a Latin master at school when I was very young. Despite his genes he wasn’t enough of a bully to teach small boys, and because of his skeletal appearance he was known to the boys as Zombie. He had very nice handwriting; he’d be your second cousin five times removed, I suppose.
    This is the second time I’ve commented about Eton headmasters in as many weeks, but it’s only coincidence. I have no personal connection with or interest in Eton and this post uses up almost my entire knowledge of the school and its staff.

  36. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    Yes, it was Warre who was the headmaster and Cornish who was the something else, and their children got married. There was a later Francis Warre-Cornish as well, probably the first one’s son or something, who was a very nice man, a Latin master at school when I was very young. Despite his genes he wasn’t enough of a bully to teach small boys, and because of his skeletal appearance he was known to the boys as Zombie. He had very nice handwriting; he’d be your second cousin five times removed, I suppose.
    This is the second time I’ve commented about Eton headmasters in as many weeks, but it’s only coincidence. I have no personal connection with or interest in Eton and this post uses up almost my entire knowledge of the school and its staff.

  37. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    To study the !Xóõ language you could write the rules yourself, I’d imagine. Does it have onomatopoeiaic words? And how about the written language, it looks like it could be better transposed using binary digits than with the script used here. That would be fun for someone, an oral computer language. (Please don’t tell me I’ve got it all wrong, linguists.)

  38. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    To study the !Xóõ language you could write the rules yourself, I’d imagine. Does it have onomatopoeiaic words? And how about the written language, it looks like it could be better transposed using binary digits than with the script used here. That would be fun for someone, an oral computer language. (Please don’t tell me I’ve got it all wrong, linguists.)

  39. Although not listed, Livonian is another language certainly deserving note. It’s up there in population with Ter Saami.
    In a quote from his site (Virtual Livonia: http://homepage.mac.com/uldis/livonia/), Uldis Balodis sums up the situation:
    “Today there are less than two hundred individuals in Latvia that identify themselves as Livonian. Less than ten are native speakers of the language. Most of them are elderly. As I listened to the folk ensemble perform, I turned my attention to the audience. There was Poulin, in the red dress, perhaps the most famed native speaker. I knew her, but surrounding her were a number of other people, other speakers of the language. Usually, it seems like nations are large undifferentiated masses of people. But just a few feet away from me was the core of an entire nation, gathered together under the shadow of a single tree.”

  40. here my top five
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  41. Wolfgang, those are great links, but I feel I should mention that Batchelor is not without his detractors and I would be wary of relying on his dictionary as one’s sole source of information about Ainu. (His orthography too is very far from the modern standard, though he can’t be blamed for that.)

  42. John J Emerson says:

    Ainu-language books which even Ainu cannot understand: truly, these can only be called writings from Heaven itself, works of exceeding rarity, and it is no wonder that they fetch such high prices in second-hand bookstores.
    Exquisite Japanese tact.

  43. When I was young (1975 to be exact) I went on an Ainu-language summer camp with young people from the linguistics dept. of Hokkaido University. The camp was held in an old house on Teuri island at a time when Common murres or Guillemots were still nesting prolifically on its cliffs — alas, it appears they are almost all gone, now.
    To my own great discredit, I made no attempt to learn any Ainu at all, partly because I was still struggling with Japanese, partly because I didn’t want to expend any energy studying a language that was virtually dead, and partly because I couldn’t see the sense in studying a language with a bunch of non-native speakers who pronounced Ainu as though it were Japanese. Afterwards we went to Asahikawa where we met an old lady who, I was told, was one of the last speakers of the language.
    Of course I had the correct political consciousness that “this was a deplorable state of affairs”, but when it came to my own behaviour I was exactly the same as the dominant philistines who see no point in minor and useless languages. I greatly regret my closed-mindedness now.
    The only thing I got out of it all was the pejorative Ainu term for the Yamato Japanese, which was shamo, if I remember rightly.

  44. I am trying to help minority languages at least by creating this project (Ardano) you are encouraged to support Ardano by joining it’s group on yahoo

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